by Rich Rosentreter
The Tupper Lake Golf Course is set to begin anotherseason as the weather in the region recently hit a warming trend, and its two new golf pros are warmed up and ready to go as well.
Chris Clark and Evan LaBarge are sharing the duties of golf pro at the local golf course and each brings a love of the game, a golf-based education and on-the-job experience to their position. It's the first time in recent history the facility stands to benefit greatly by having two pros directing things. When the Free Press stopped by the pro shop at the country club, both were eager to discuss their connection to the game of golf and the upcoming golf season.
“The course is in good shape. There’s nice weather right now,” Clark said, adding that he and his co-pro make a nice team. “Evan and I get along very well and work together well too, and that makes both of our jobs easier.”
Clark is a 2009 graduate of Tupper Lake High School and was on the golf team for three years. His uncle Tim Clark also has worked as a golf pro at the Tupper Lake Country Club, and is currently the golf course’s general manager, overseeing maintenance and other aspects of the operation. Chris said his love for the game was aided by his uncle.
“My whole family is golf-oriented,” Chris said. “I’ve always followed him and my father. Those are the two big golfers in the family. They put a club in my hand and I’ve loved it ever since.”
This marks the fifth year Chris has worked at the Tupper Lake club, but prior to getting a job locally, he went to study golf. Clark went to the Golf Academy of America in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and earned a degree in golf course management and operations.
“I became certified in club fitting and club repair while down there. It’s a normal college but it’s strictly for golf,” he said. “In 2012, I came back home for break and went directly here to the Tupper Lake course.”
Chris was eventually offered a job and has been here ever since. He now runs the pro shop and gives golf lessons, and his golf education has been valuable.
“I had a teaching class and gave golf instructions. It has helped me a lot here,” he said, adding that he now has a variety of duties. “People come in and ask advice or about the products were offer. Pretty much the job entails making sure the golf course is running well.”
But of all his responsibilities, Chris said he enjoys teaching the most.
“I like the challenge of trying to fix a golf swing because everybody is different. I don’t know how I have the patience to do it, but I really enjoy teaching. No golf swing is the same, and that makes it more interesting,” he said, adding that prices at the Tupper Lake golf course are reasonable. “We are pretty good when it comes to prices. Some places will charge you $100 for an hour just to learn how to hit a golf ball. Here, for half an hour it costs $30. We will go to the range. We do a video, slow motion analysis.”
“I teach all ages, from kids all the way to seniors. It was part of my classes in college,” Chris said, adding that in college he also had added pressure because he was being graded as well. “The instructors would watch as I would teach kids, and that was a little nerve wracking, but that was mainly due to having to worry about getting a grade for it.”
Just like Chris, Evan LaBarge’s golf roots can be traced back to getting into the sport at a young age. And just like his counterpart, he too went to school to learn more about a career in golf before coming to work at the country club in 2014.
“My dad played and I learned from the ground up from him. Then from there, I just kind of picked it up by myself and ran with it,” Even said.
Before coming to Tupper Lake, Evan graduated from a school in Orlando, Florida and then found his way to the Syracuse area where he landed a job at the Timber Banks Country Club, which has a Nicklaus-designed golf course. He worked there for four years as an assistant professional. From there, Evan eventually moved to Tupper Lake where he was a friend with Clarence Bell, the golf pro here at the time.
But golf wasn’t the sport Evan first got involved with.
“I started out going for hockey, but you can only ice your knees for so many times before realizing you might have to do something else. So I went to college for golf,” he said. “That’s when I found my way down to Florida and attended a professional golfer’s career college there. After I graduated was when I came up to New York.”
Evan then explained his choice of golf as a career.
“I just like the atmosphere the camaraderie, the dealing with the people,” he said. “I feel it’s a talent I am good at. I like teaching. I like the youth programs here, the junior program. I enjoy trying to please everybody and seeing the outcome turn out pretty well.”
When asked about the key differences between working at a bigger club in Syracuse compared to a smaller one here, Evan said it’s all in the people.
“Things are a lot different here than they were in Syracuse,” he said. “You might get less people than you get at the bigger places, but you don’t get that family-feel that you get at Tupper. Here you get to get close. You get to know your members, you get to know the public, and that’s how you can cater to people and really bring them back.”
“They make you feel welcome. They respect what you say and they listen. They make me feel part of Tupper Lake. Even though I am not from here, it didn’t take long to feel like I was,” Evan said. “It’s great meeting the new people. Being here is great. It doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like that I’m supposed to do. You see the kids here every day. The high school program is here. That’s mainly our goal, to get the juniors coming back out to the course.”
And just like Chris, Evan finds the teaching aspect of his job rewarding.
“You get guys who come in here for pointers every day. They’re always asking for my opinion, which is nice,” Evan said, adding that the course is ready for action. “It’s in great shape. I held the winter very well.”
Evan also invites those who have never golfed.
“We are trying to reach out to people who never golfed. We want to find people who want to try it but never took that step. We’re trying to bring people up here. You don’t need to be good you just have to understand the game and enjoy yourself. And that’s what Chris and I are trying to do here,” he said. “It all starts with pointing them in the right direction. Just start from the ground up,”
“We have clubs that we can provide for people to take out on the golf course. We have the driving range and the practice green and if anyone has any questions, we just want people to feel welcome here and just come in and ask. Whatever they need,” Evan added.
Then Chris gave a final message to the community: “Come out and play some golf!”
by Rich Rosentreter